Tag Archives: goals
Embracing the Ordinary
For a long time, I was restless with where I was in life. So much of it felt like a waiting game. Waiting to go to college, waiting to find someone to spend my life with, waiting for a job….it felt like I was in the lobby of life. If only something would happen, something exciting, something significant.
The thing with always waiting is that there is always something to wait for. When I focused on the waiting, that was all I was ever doing. When I started counseling again last year, a big part of it was learning to set goals.
My therapists in the past were never goal-driven, it was more about exploring feelings and explaining why I thought about certain things the way I did. It got exhausting. I was rehashing my past over and over again and there was no way out. I had one counselor in high school who was a listener, not a talker, so I felt pressured to just talk the whole time. It was helpful for a while, I was able to unearth what I thought myself and the world around me, but I’ve always been very self-aware, so I started wishing she would just tell me how to change what I thought. My counselor my firsts year of college was better, she provided more insights of her own. The depression was really bad that year, I was involved in a lot of dramatic and intense spiritual activities, and my medication was erratic, so we focused mostly on keeping me from having night terrors and being terrified of boys. When I left for Macalester, I had to leave that counselor behind. My next counselor I only saw for a few months. I stopped seeing her when I tried to talk through my confusion about my sexuality and I felt like she was arguing with me. When I decided to go back into counseling and start afresh with someone new, I knew I had to have goals.
Therapy is not supposed to go on forever. It is not only expensive, but it is ineffective if you have to keep going back to the same person over and over again for the same problems. And I mean consistent counseling. Clearly, some of us will just need to check in with a therapist once and while to get back on track, but one session per week therapy should not go on for years at a time. I was going to have to set goals.
I’ve always had big dreams. When I was a little kid, I asked my parents what the first day of college would be like. I had dreams about being a pop singer in 5th grade. I wanted to be a mermaid when I was thirteen. I wanted to be marine biologist. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a writer. For me, it is easy to be motivated about the big stuff, the important stuff. It has always been the ordinary things that brought me down.
When I started counseling last year, my goals were simple:
Go to the grocery store alone.
Get dressed everyday.
Do the laundry.
I was terrified of leaving the apartment. I had this constant anxiety and fear of meeting people and being seen. I wasn’t afraid that they would hurt me. Just being looked at was enough to make my skin feel hot and my eyes dry out. It was like other people could see through my outside and read my mind, see all my fears, all my failures. I was terrified of looking stupid. Being told I was beautiful by Chris and my therapist even made me nervous, because it meant that other people would think that too, and my appearance would draw their attention to me and then I would be exposed. I just wanted to be invisible.
I didn’t care about achieving the big dreams anymore. I just wanted to be able to walk down three flights of stairs to do laundry.
I can do that now. Over the past year, I’ve been freed from my agoraphobia and go the store once every two weeks, do laundry, and even drive myself to places I’ve never been to before. Doing the ordinary things used to mean very little to me. Ordinary things are the bare minimum, the expected, the “easy” things in life. Everyone can do those.
Hitting rock bottom told me that is not true. I found victory in walking up and down three flights of stairs with a basket of warm laundry. I can appreciate the elegance of pumping my own gas for the car and going to the grocery store. Embracing the ordinary has helped calm my restless spirit and brought me from my fantasy land to the real world, where anything can be hard and everything is significant.
One Month into 2014
Ah, January. You are a strange month. You fall low after the holiday razzle and dazzle of December and New Year’s, but also promise new things and change. I had a quaint little list of resolutions I wanted to hop on. Let’s see how I did:
Yoga has been going….decently. I try to do it every day, but it isn’t especially consistent. Sometimes I do half a routine and then get bored. Sometimes I do half a routine and then do situps on the exercise ball and lift the kettlebell. And then sometimes I dig in my heels and do a full routine until I’m sweating and as limber as a rubber band. Chris has this weird habit of getting really clingy when I work out and is very distracting. He either likes to “work out” next to me, which means doing push-ups and then lying down staring at the TV, or he’ll stand over me and pat my head or try to kiss me. He’s worse than Yoshi, who used to just steal the yoga mat and stretch out, or the cat, who would sit on my back.
Cooking has been going very well. I already made two new recipes this month, so I’m ahead. Those were turkey sloppy Joe’s (barely a “new” recipe, since it just substitutes the meat, but still) and broccoli chicken cheddar soup. Both were successful. Next month will be pizza with homemade crust with new friends Ren and Bonnie, whose names I have changed. Very proud of myself for the way I modified them.
Reading has been the same. Writing has been slow, I’m in the outlining stage of my new book and it is PAINFUL. Counseling is going well, too. I was all ready for class this week until I got sick from medication withdrawal and then Thursday’s session was cancelled. That was pretty weird and anti-climatic. My birthday is next week, which I always enjoy. I will be 23. I guess I’m about where I thought I would be in life; I thought I would be graduated by now, but I definitely didn’t think I would be married, so those two big life things got jumbled. I never really thought about where I “should” be in terms of years, I kind of thought in decades, or just didn’t bother with it. In the words of Edna Mode, it distracts from the now.
Since I started this round of therapy, goals have been very important. It’s a tangible way to measure progress and to keep tabs on how specific actions and environments are affecting me. It’s also a way to ensure that I don’t feel “stuck,” or trapped in a cycle with no way out.
I’ve always made resolutions every new year. In the past, they’ve included things like “get six-pack abs,” “read more books,” and so forth. I like to mix both fun and serious goals into my resolutions, otherwise the year can look overwhelming and exhausting.
Make a homemade pizza
Yoga 5-6 times a week
Ace my class
Perfect a a donut recipe
Drink more water
Watch one movie on Netflix a week
Try one new recipe a month
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
I always go on these health sprints. They are short and overly ambitious, such as deciding I’m not going to eat any sugar. That’s not going to happen, especially since it directly contradicts one of my other goals, which is baking more.
I read somewhere that adding things is always easier than subtracting. It’s the same philosophy that states that repeating positive actions is more efficient than trying to stop negative ones. So, this time, instead of trying to cut things out of my diet, I’m adding.
I’ve made it a goal to essentially be constantly drinking water. People are supposed to drink something like 8 glasses a day, which, after feeling like a camel preparing to enter the desert after only 3 large glasses, seems insane. However, it’s been about three days since I started my water regiment and I already feel a lot better. I have more energy, I feel lighter, and less hungry at mealtimes. When we feel hungry, especially between meals, it often means that we’re actually thirsty. So drink water.
2. Replacing sugar
I’ve tried this a couple times already, and it doesn’t mean “less” calories necessarily, but better ones than white sugar. I’ve used honey and applesauce in a few recipes. I’m also looking up desserts based on avocados, dates, bananas, so I’m still getting to eat all the desserts I love, but they’re better for me, like instead of buying ice cream, blending frozen bananas into a creamy cold mixture and adding flavorings like peanut butter or Nutella. It’s also cheaper that way.
This is probably the hardest thing to add, because I’m wimpy about being sore and such. I’m getting back into some yoga, working with my exercise ball and kettle bell, and squats. I also do a lot of push-ups, which I HATE, but I’m still just so happy I can actually do them now after not being able to, oh, I don’t know, my entire life.
In therapy, we’ve started to focus on anxiety. I’m much more concerned about that right now than I am about depression; depression is something I’ve learned to deal with and to a certain degree, can’t be “cured,” but anxiety is relatively new, and I believe that can be trained out of me.
I don’t remember my life without depression, but I remember it without anxiety, and I want that life back.
We talked about activities that I can practice, the ones that are on the lower end of my anxiety. Leaving the apartment to do laundry, going to the store alone, talking to clerks, and driving are all things I can practice pretty easily, and have made a lot of progress in. I went to my psychiatrist yesterday, and when I saw her last month, I wasn’t even able to go downstairs to the laundry room because of the anxiety. Since then, I’ve done laundry four times, gone to the store twice, and driven myself to every counseling appointment. The changes in medication has definitely played a part in that; when I sleep better and stay asleep for longer periods of time, the rest of the day automatically goes better and I’m able to concentrate my energy on achieving my goals.
There are certain activities that I can’t really “practice,” and those are on the highest end of my anxiety spectrum. Job interviews, saying something potentially embarrassing, and going back to school are all petrifying. When I think about school, it’s not school itself that I’m anxious about. I’m afraid of repeating what has happened before and what can only be described as a crash and burn. I’d start out the semester ok and then over time, get more and more anxious about things, miss more classes, and panic about everything. As I went through college, the periods of time where I could push past my fears got shorter and shorter until I collapsed on Chris’ floor just before midterms of my junior year and stopped going to school. I’m afraid that will happen again.
I’m afraid that when I walk through the school buildings, sit in class, and just navigate life as a Macalester student, the memory of my anxiety will be too vivid to ignore. Simply by being in a situation where in the past I’ve felt a lot of anxiety will be enough to send me spiraling. My brain will go into protection mode and a shot of adrenaline will disrupt the normality of finishing 20 credits.
What has basically happened to my brain is that my adrenaline is overly sensitive. While most people only experience that level of intensity when there’s an actual crisis (running from danger, gaining super strength when a car falls on a child, etc), I will begin feeling a sense of danger when I’m just doing everyday things, like asking for help in a store or meeting with an academic adviser. The physical symptoms of adrenaline kick in and I interpret that as meaning something is actually wrong, and my thinking follows. Why can’t I stop shaking? Why is my mouth so dry? If I talk, it sounds like I’m going to cry, and that will make me seem weak and weird. I can’t be around people right now, they’re making it worse. Now I can’t breathe. The fears going through my mind only make the adrenaline rush worse and that can cause anxiety attacks. The physical and mental panic build on each other until I can’t tell the difference between them.
Since my anxiety is so physically based (shaking, difficulty breathing, dizziness, feeling out of control of my body), the solution is also physical. What I basically have to do is calm my physical state before my mind can interpret the situation as one involving actual danger. In my head, I know that sitting in a class is not scary, but when my body is responding to the situation with shakiness and cold sweats, it’s hard to convince my mind that everything is peaches ‘n cream. When an adrenaline rush happens at an inappropriate time, I need to make some physical adjustments to ease the adrenaline back to a normal level. Deep breathing is key. When breathing gets out of control, everything just falls to pieces. Focusing on maintaining deep, even breaths calms down panicky feelings and concentrates the mind on something other than the non-existing peril. My therapist also suggested carrying water wherever I go, since getting a very dry mouth and not being able to swallow are very common symptoms for me. Drinking water helps so many things. The dizziness might even be caused by partial dehydration or low blood sugar, which I also tend to have, so having water and keeping a good blood sugar level are possible solutions. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.
I may not be able to go practice going to school by actually going to school, but thinking about it is all it takes for a lot of my anxiety to kick in. I can use that to practice breathing and other techniques to calm myself down. Simulating anxiety-causing situations and then learning to control the feelings that arise is definitely a new goal on my list.
The New Therapist Update
I’ve only been to “Liz” twice now, but I’m very optimistic about working with her. She seems more qualified than the other therapists, maybe it’s just her method, but she just seems to know what she’s talking about, and most importantly, what I’m talking about.
Her office is small. It’s a suite in an office building, with a little waiting room with warm, slightly dim light. Her office itself is brightly lit with natural light. She has a fountain she plugs in that fills the room with the sound of water. The environment is calm, but not sleepy. The couch is insanely comfortable. It’s also significant to me that she sits at a very balanced distance from me; she’s not too close or too far away. Most therapists I’ve been to seemed very far away. There was this empty space between us. I felt a little like I was being observed in a zoo. With Liz, we’re in this together.
The second time I met with her, she had typed up all the problems I talked about, and had a section for goals and methods. Here’s a sampling:
Panic Disorder/Mild Agoraphobia – move to reduction of social anxiety, agoraphobia resolved, no panic attacks – learn and practice coping skills, desensitization, identify factors that cause anxiety
No other therapist ever handed me a piece of paper with something concrete on it. I want to attack this illness from a rational viewpoint; it’s the emotions that are the problem. I’m used to studying. This is familiar ground, this is my court. CBT seems to have the tools I’m looking for.
The biggest thing I’ve noticed with Liz is that unlike with other therapists and even with my current psychiatrist, I don’t feel like I’m performing. I usually feel the need to have the “right” answer, to always be articulate, even funny, but with this therapist, I don’t always know the answer. That’s why I’m seeing her. Why do I often feel crippling physical and emotional anxiety when I’m in a group of friends? Liz is able to help me break down the question into smaller questions that I can better answer. Am I afraid of rejection, even from friends? Am I afraid that when I get quieter, withdrawn, that people won’t like me? Is that why I feel like I’m always performing, pretending to be an extrovert when I’m around people, and then the consequence of that is exhaustion and anxiety?
These are the important questions. I don’t have all the answers, but maybe simply asking the question is where the real change begins.
My Grown-Up Wish List
I’m looking at my intake sheet for my new counselor and it is eleven pages long. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. This should be thorough. I’m asking this person to help me learn how to live. They should know just about everything about what’s up with me. I’m looking at the section where it asks, “What do you hope to get out of counseling?” Hmm. I’ve only recently developed a more concrete idea of what I want my life to look like. I’m starting simple.
- Keep the apartment clean
- Go to the grocery store alone
- Cook more
- Read more
- Socialize more
- Go outside and exercise
These things may seem basic, and that’s because they are. It’s been pretty difficult to admit to myself that I can’t do the basic stuff. I tried to jump right into school, work, etc and I couldn’t even vacuum a room. Ya gotta start from the bottom rung of the ladder and climb up. Jumping around on a ladder usually results in falling right off. Some people can do it (like those insanely smart 13-year old kids who go to college and they can’t even start driver’s ed), but those people are the minority, and there’s probably a lot they missed out on, too. The world looks a little different from each rung, and I want to take my time enjoying the view. Or at least learning from it. Some rungs are harder than others, especially since I’m afraid of heights. It’ll be ok though. I’ve got a safety harness – people who support and love me. They’re helping me climb and they’ll be there if I fall.